About Abuse

Forced Prostitution

Updated: 
September 1, 2016

How is prostitution harmful to women?

Prostitution can be harmful on many levels, posing a threat to a woman’s mental and physical health among many other consequences. One small study of 130 prostitutes found that 68% of the prostituted women interviewed met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture.1

Even though prostitution itself is illegal, women who are prostituting can still be the victim of a crime; crimes such as rape and physical and sexual abuse are often committed against women in prostitution.  Women in prostitution have the right to report crimes committed against them, though many are afraid to come forward for a variety of reasons: they fear no one will believe them, they fear being arrested, they may feel ashamed, they don't want anyone to know that they are working as a prostitute, etc.

Prostituted women are often victims of violence characterized by power and control (much like domestic violence) by pimps and customers, often called “johns.”  The methods of control that pimps and johns use are similar to the methods used by abusers.  Some examples include:

  • physical violence;
  • sexual assault;
  • economic abuse or manipulation;
  • isolation;
  • verbal abuse;
  • threats and intimidation; and
  • minimization and denial of physical violence.

Women in prostitution have a death rate that is significantly higher than women who are not involved in prostitution.2

1 Melissa Farley, et al. 2003. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74 (see page 56).
2Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women, Potterat, Brewer, et. al. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2004) 159 (8): 778-785 (2004)